Climate change: UK needs to reduce production of fossil fuels, not increase it – Scotsman comment

It is hard to fathom how anyone could convince themselves that increasing the UK's production of oil and gas will help tackle global warming.

Yet, according to the newly appointed UK climate minister, Graham Stuart, this is true. “You really can be assured that it’s actually... I know it sounds contradictory, but it’s actually good for the environment that we are going to produce more of our gas and oil at home,” he told BBC Breakfast after being asked about a new licensing round for fossil fuel exploration in the North Sea.

The argument is that increasing domestic production would reduce the need for imports and, thereby, the emissions produced during transportation.

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Readers of the Scotsman may be familiar with this line of reasoning, as it was put forward in an article by Deirdre Michie, of industry body OEUK, formerly Oil and Gas UK, last year.

However, if every fossil fuel-producing country were to take the same approach, then global production and the associated carbon emissions would rise, along with global temperatures.

And if emissions caused by transporting fossil fuels around the world are truly the target, then the UK should be seeking to reduce exports as well as imports.

According to official figures, the UK imported £30 billion-worth of oil in 2021, but it also exported £28.3 billion-worth. Presumably at least some of those exports could have been used in Britain instead.

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New licensing round for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea "good for the e...
The UK exported nearly as much oil as it imported in 2021 (Picture: Reg Lancaster/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

At present, there is nothing to stop the extra North Sea oil the UK hopes to start producing from being added to the £3.9 billion-worth of crude we sent on the long journey to China in 2021.

The UK Government could introduce extra taxes on imports and exports or impose highly Draconian market controls. However, given Liz Truss reportedly baulked at a simple government public information campaign to encourage people to reduce energy use this winter – designed to help avoid potential electricity blackouts – such ‘nanny state’ steps seem unlikely.

While the world is going to need fossil fuels for some years to come, the sooner we start weaning ourselves off them in earnest, the smoother and more controlled the process will be. The economic temptations may be great but, if dangerous climate change is to be avoided, every country has to play its part in reducing, not increasing, their use.

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